What Parenting Isn’t

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There is a whole culture around parenting. Visit any bookstore and you will find shelves upon shelves of books purporting to tell you what is wrong with your kids, and how to fix it. Everything from what to feed them, to how to get them to sleep, how to snuff out challenging behaviours and why too much screen time is bad. For even more fun, hit Google, and type in any question you have about how to raise kids and you will get avalanches of information on the topic from every one ranging from mommy bloggers to scientists. Most of it will contradict itself, and you will end up more confused than you were when you began.

 I mean, all you’re trying to do is raise your kids in the absolute best way you possibly can, that’s can’t be so hard, right?

 To make matters worse, parenting seems to have fallen into the “white noise” of western culture. For all that we are told the myriad of ways that we are screwing up our kids, and exactly how to put it right, parenting is not considered to be an important job.  All you have to do is tell someone you are a stay at home mom, and the western perception of the value of parenting becomes clear.  The look of pity, the curious eyes, perhaps asking when you plan to “go back to work” ?

 Everyone seems to think that they know best “what parenting is”. Except parents.  Once you become a parent, all your ideas about parenting go out the window. It might make for a shorter list to talk about what parenting isn’t.

 For starters, parenting ISN”T a worthless job, that has no value to society. Quite the contrary in fact. Research has shown that parents as a group are one of the most powerful groups there is when it comes to galvanizing social change. Take any remarkable time in history, 1940’s Germany is a great example, go back 30 or so years and observe the parenting practices at that time in Germany, and you can fairly reliably predict that Nazi Germany would be the outcome.   What you do in your home, the methods you use, and your outlook on your job has an incredibly powerful effect on society.  Imagine if that power was ever tapped? Think about it, we are raising the next generation of workers, politicians, activists, scientists and thinkers. Who we are as parents has a great deal of influence over the world of the future. You are not insignificant. 

 At the same time though, parenting isn’t about YOU. The work of parenting is a verb.  Parenting is all about what you do.  Discipline methods, routines, housework, boundaries, expectations, all of these are the actions of parenting.  These are not about you.  You do these things for your children, motivated by the outcomes you so deeply desire for them.  There is something that we overlook though. Something so powerful. While there is a whole culture regarding the how of parenting, there is little to no attention paid to the WHO.  You. The parent.  If parenting is all about what you do, parenthoodIS about you. Parenthood is a noun. It is the state of being a parent. This is all about YOU. Who you are in this role, the quality of how you inhabit it. Think about it. Everything you do is enhanced and improved when you attend to the quality of your self that you bring to it. As a society we pay very little attention to this, and it has led to the immense amount of grief, dissonance and dissatisfaction parents often feel.  Attending to YOU, and your needs, and desires brings a whole new dimension to the parenting journey. And dare I say a great deal more quality to your work as a parent. 

 Parenting is not easy.  Yes, a great deal of the things that we do as parents are simple things. We make breakfast, we do laundry, we help with homework, we mediate arguments, we marshal them through routines. These are simple tasks, but in practice they are not always easy.  In this way, parenting challenges us to evolve as people. We are called to become a better, stronger, more flexible version of ourselves as we navigate the mundanities of raising our young. Many of us fall victim to feeling constantly as though we are failing in some very fundamental ways. Parenting culture contributes to this by offering a myriad of solutions to what we could not possibly figure out on our own.  I mean really, parenthood is a role as old as time itself. As long as their have been humans, there have been parents. One would think that there would be a great deal of instinct involved.  There probably is, but as a modern society, we are so trained to look outside of ourselves for approval that we have become completely unable to hear the quiet, resonant whispers of our instincts.  And those of us who can hear them often feel that they fly in the face of what society expects of us, thereby reinforcing the notion that we are somehow fundamentally failing both our children and society. 

Parenthood isn’t a lot of things. What it IS is a powerful vehicle for personal and social change. And when we inhabit it powerfully, with consciousness and intention, we unlock our incredible personal potential to change the world.

** Originally published in Windsor Parent Magazine, 2017